The NASCAR Nextel Cup cars are the third piece in Indianapolis Motor speedway's annual puzzle this year, finishing out the big 2.5-mile oval's season on August 8th with the Brickyard 400. Today and tomorrow, 23 Cup drivers are testing various...
The NASCAR Nextel Cup cars are the third piece in Indianapolis Motor speedway's annual puzzle this year, finishing out the big 2.5-mile oval's season on August 8th with the Brickyard 400.
Today and tomorrow, 23 Cup drivers are testing various cars to find the right setup for this race, still one of the biggest on a calendar that includes 36 points-paying runs. Of course this season the championship won't go to the wire, as the first 26 events set up a shootout for the $6 million expected to be awarded to the driver who wins the ten-race winner-take-all rumble the begins in September.
Jeff Gordon, hoping to achieve his fifth title this year isn't terribly sure the new system in place is right, stating that when NASCAR tries to balance hard-core racing and entertainment, this particular system tends too far to entertainment for many race fans (and for him).
"I wasn't a big fan of the new system at the start but now I am because I can be in it," Gordon explained during a lunch break today. "Only the guy who wins the championship will be thrilled with the outcome. It might make it more exciting but it's not hard-core racing," as far as Jeff Gordon and his #24 Dupont Chevrolet team are concerned.
"We're racing for wins now and every point counts. Being 230-240 points out means a driver might take some chances" to get within the 400-point envelope decreed by the sanctioning body.
Gordon is happy that NASCAR is looking to instigate green flag finishes, rather than having races reach completion under yellow. "It's been coming a long time. I don't think it's a bad thing but then it is racing vs. entertainment again. It robs fans when we finish under caution. We're looking for consistency with enforcement of rules and this might help," he said.
Elsewhere in the paddock, Larry Foyt, who had a full month of May in Indianapolis practicing, qualifying and racing in the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race had a tough first morning of testing. Apparently, there was a problem with the steering box on his car. "I've been fighting the steering wheel all morning," he confessed.
The Foyt team was still busy swapping out steering boxes on the #14 Chevy when practice resumed after a one-hour lunch break.
Casey Mears is familiar with the Brickyard oval but hasn't raced here in anything but a stock car. The former Bakersfield, CA resident - whose famous father Roger Mears is driving Casey's coach from race to race this year - has run well much of this season but seems to have lousy luck. Yesterday Mears was fifth when a piece of paper became lodged in his radiator, had to pit and was relegated to 15th finishing position in the process.
His Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team spent much of the morning setting up the car he ran at Chicagoland yesterday because the spare Dodge the team brought out here to test "is set up like our 2003 car," Mears said. "With the changes in spoiler and tires being so different from last year the setup was way wrong," he explained.
The Ganassi squad are running in race trim only during this two-day test and didn't get on the track until two hours of the scheduled three this morning were completed. "We had to turn it around from Joliet really fast," Mears said. "I did practice running underneath some guys today and the Joliet car felt really good. We thought that car was just right off the truck," but needed to make some revisions for the length and flatness of the Indianapolis oval.
Semi-regular Busch Series competitor Jason Leffler has inked a two-day test contract to drive the #60 Haas CNC Racing Chevrolet, "trying to get a handle on it" and intending, should the test go well, to parlay a ride for the Brickyard 400, he said.
Kasey Kahne and the Evernham Motorsports team have put yesterday's troubles behind them, the driver said. "I'm hoping this episode will motivate us to do better," after Kahne got bunted out of the lead - and race - by eventual winner Tony Stewart in Joliet. "There's not going to be any payback from me. It's just a racing deal like NASCAR said, but Tony was so much better on all of those restarts than anybody else, I just didn't see why he had to get into the back of me," Kahne said.
Kasey Kahne has "always wanted to drive at Indy. It's been awesome the first time out but I've been surprised by the track. I watched a lot of races here but until you actually drive it, you don't know what to expect. The straightaways are so long and there's a fine line judging the corners. I've got a lot to learn," he said.
During the morning session Jimmy Spencer was quickest in the #4 Morgan McClure Chevy. Midway through the afternoon session, Mark Martin has paced the 30 cars on-track with his #6 Viagra Roush Racing Ford.